March 12, 2015 / 5:57 PM / 3 years ago

Soccer-Rakitic a key man for treble-chasing Barcelona

BARCELONA, March 12 (Reuters) - Ivan Rakitic may not have seemed an obvious choice for Barcelona when they signed him from Sevilla last year but the Croatia midfielder has quickly become a key performer for the Catalan giants.

The versatile 27-year-old, who can play in both a defensive holding role or further forward as a more creative influence, has won over coach Luis Enrique and the Nou Camp fans with some impressive performances.

He has developed a productive on-field understanding with Barca’s prolific trio of South American forwards -- Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez -- and how he performs at the business end of the season could be key to the club’s hopes of silverware.

After finishing 2013-14 without a major trophy for the first time in six years, Barca brought in former midfielder Luis Enrique to replace Gerardo Martino as coach and they are in with a chance of repeating 2009’s historic treble under Pep Guardiola.

Through to May’s King’s Cup final to face Athletic Bilbao, they are also on the verge of a place in the Champions League quarter-finals and leapfrogged arch rivals Real Madrid into top spot in La Liga last weekend.

Rakitic will probably have another chance to shine when Barca play at Eibar in La Liga on Saturday as Sergio Busquets is out injured and Javier Mascherano a booking away from a suspension that would keep him out of the ‘Clasico’ at home to Real on March 22.

Rakitic will likely play in the central holding role with playmakers Xavi and Andres Iniesta completing the midfield.

“It wouldn’t be anything new for me to play in that role, I played there for my country last season,” Rakitic told a news conference on Thursday.

“It’s a different position and it demands different skills, but I know the position very well,” he added.

”As the pivot you have to cover the defenders who come out with the ball, help them if there isn’t an easy way out and watch the backs of the team mates you have in front of you.

“You have to help the team in whatever position you play. The important thing is to be out on the pitch, I want to play every game.”

After the trip to Eibar, Barca take a 2-1 lead into their Champions League last 16, second leg at home to Manchester City on Wednesday and host Real in La Liga the following Sunday. (Writing by Iain Rogers, editing by Toby Davis)

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